What is a lease option?
When a renter signs a lease with an option to purchase a property for a specific price within a certain time frame, that is called a lease option. In most lease-option situations, a portion of the rent is applied to a future down payment. Lease options are most popular among buyers who don't have enough funds for a down payment and closing costs.

Where do I get information on lease options?
Contact your real estate agent (some even specialize in such transactions) or read up on lease options at the public library. If you have a real estate attorney, ask if he or she has any prepared information you can review. Most bookstores have a fairly hefty real estate book section these days. Many current real estate books have at least a section on lease options. If you are considering a lease option, be sure you do your homework first. And have an attorney or financial advisor on hand to review any paperwork before you sign.

How do lease options work and what are the benefits?
A lease option is an arrangement with you and a seller to exercise the option to buy a house after you have rented it for a specific period. A portion of your rent would applied toward the purchase if the option is exercised. This is referred to as rent credit, which most institutional lenders will accept as part of the down payment if rental payments exceed the market rent and if a valid lease-purchase agreement is in effect, a copy of which must be attached to the loan application.

If you are a seller, lease options can give you several advantages, especially in a slow market. These include a monthly rent higher than market rent, top-market value for the property and tax-free use of the option consideration until the option expires or is exercised. Also, the renter is more likely to treat the property like an owner, tax-free use of option consideration until the option expires or is exercised. Read any lease-option arrangement carefully for details on transferring the option and other important concerns.

For more information, get a copy of "How Lease- Options Benefit Realty Buyers, Sellers, Agents and Investors," available for $4 from Tribune Media Services, 64 E. Concord St., Orlando, FL 32801.